Shelter and Housing are Medicine

Especially if You are Pregnant

By Lily Barnard and Nicole Gordon

Lily Barnard is a fourth year medical student UCSF and Nicole Gordon is a Family Medicine physician at Zuckerburg San Francisco General Hospital.

In San Francisco, all pregnant people should be prioritized for shelter and housing.

We are health professionals at UCSF and are here to ask you to help us guarantee this. We will spend our lifetimes taking care of pregnant individuals and their children. Taking care means managing chronic illnesses and preventing poor health outcomes.

Pregnant people experiencing homelessness are at increased risk of preterm delivery and increased risk of delivering a newborn with low birth weight. Preterm birth and low birth weight can lead to short- and long-term consequences for infants ranging from heart and lung issues, to bleeding in the brain, to chronic medical conditions. Further, traumatic experiences during pregnancy can lead to PTSD, anxiety, and depression, which can affect the bond between parent and child.

Importantly, shelter and housing are medicine.

Homeless people staying on the street are at an even greater risk of these complications than those staying in shelters. In one study, shelter and housing was more predictive of poor birth outcomes than access to prenatal care.

Mayor London Breed and the Department for Homelessness and Supportive Housing have well-intentioned programs that are not functioning as such. The programs only qualify individuals in their third trimester for access to shelter and housing. However, given the ~100 day waitlists, some people are having late miscarriages while living in cars, and many babies are born into homelessness.

Pregnant homeless people must qualify for shelter and housing at any point in their pregnancy, so that people are housed or sheltered by their third trimester, as intended. This will avoid increased risk of pregnancy complications and protect parents and their children.

The unique part of this change is that it’s simple, and requires little to no cost, program development, nor workflow changes. The infrastructure and programming already exist. By allowing all pregnant individuals to be prioritized for housing and shelter at any point in their pregnancy, the outcome of our policies can meet our intentions of providing safe haven for pregnant people.

We need real commitment to action because while you are reading this, pregnant homeless people are going into labor unsheltered.

Mayor London Breed can change the policy. She has agreed to do so in the past and nothing has changed. Us constituents can highlight this issue to create more political will.

The mayor is convening an invitation-only meeting about homeless family access to services on Friday, October 18th. In order to have a voice in the matter, we need to create noise today. Share this article. Reach out to the mayor by tweeting @LondonBreed or email mayorlondonbreed@sfgov.org. Remind her that we deeply care for homeless families, and that they need shelter to thrive.

The STREET SHEET is a San Francisco-based street newspaper published by the Coalition on Homelessness, dedicated to covering issues of homelessness and poverty.

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